Philadelphia’s three-mile rail park is underway

By Alexandra Johnson

Phase 1 of the Rail Park includes recycled iron pieces from the original railroad. | Photo courtesy of Friends of the Rail Park Public Relations.

The City of Philadelphia is currently undergoing a large open space project titled the Philadelphia Rail Park.  

This project began more than 20 years ago when several neighborhoods saw the potential of the abandoned tracks that ran through their respective residential areas, and began dreaming up a lively public space for people to safely recreate. 

This project is the joint effort of several entities and includes Friends of the Rail Park, the city’s Parks and Recreation Department, city government, Philadelphia’s Street Department, and a private company titled City District. 

The entire finished Rail Park will be a total of 3.1 miles in length and run from Center City Philadelphia to Fairmont, according to Rebecca Cordes Chan, executive director of Friends of the Rail Park. 

Phase one of the project is complete, and is located near Chinatown with entrances on Noble  and Callowhill streets, according to the Friends of the Rail Park official website. 

On the website, Chan explains that the park is “designed to be an interdisciplinary approach to public space, with thought and effort given to environmental factors, health and wellness, local communities, and economic impacts.” 

Environmental Factors

According to a recent study, more than 80 species of plants already exist in the Rail Park space. In addition to naturally occurring species, there is also the possibility of vegetable gardens and rain gardens being installed in sections of the park later on. 

Chan also states that when the project is complete, there will be a total of 50 green acres added to the city. 

Although the project is not official or complete, a heat island map of the city will show that the green spaces provided by the Rail Park will help make the spaces around it more sustainable, according to Chan. 

Health and Wellness

Chan states that the Rail Park is prioritizing “giving access to communities” that “don’t have access to exercise and relaxation spaces.” 

She also comments that some of the project will be in close proximity to hospitals in the city, and that presents another opportunity to promote the Rail Park as an access point for healthy activities. 

In addition to physical health benefits, the Philadelphia Rail Park is making an organized effort to be more accessible to people with various physical abilities and backgrounds. 

Chan writes that the park has released a Sounds of the Rail Park audio experience that is available on several popular podcast platforms.  This guided experience allows the listener to connect to the space of the Rail Park with every sense except sight, and was created with blind individuals in mind. 

Local Communities

The idea of a Rail Park started in the local communities of Philadelphia, and this vision will continue to honor these beginnings.  According to Chan, two of the individuals on her board at Friends of the Rail Park were part of the original group of citizens who dreamed up this idea. 

With this in mind, the non-profit is committed to making sure that each section of the Rail Park reflects the neighborhood that it calls home. 

Phase 1 contains a large number of trees and plants, making it easier for visitors to enjoy nature. | Photo courtesy of Friends of the Rail Park Public Relations.

Chan comments that in the first phase of the Rail Park that has been completed, there was an emphasizes on local artists and culture. 

Citizens in Philadelphia have also had a generally positive response to Phase 1 of the park, with several local TripAdvisor reviews giving positive accolades. 

“The architects and designers did a great job with the first section…I highly recommend visiting the park if you are in Philadelphia,” writes Lenny Spiro, one Trip Adviser reviewer.  

Another local writes: “The first phase is quite short, but they’ve done a nice job…looking forward to seeing how it grows.” 

Economic Impacts

The Friends of the Rail Park comment that the Rail Park project will create many jobs from conception to completion. 

It will take a large group of people to design, finance, and physically create these spaces, and Chan states that with a generous grant from the William Penn Foundation, it is possible to pay individuals to accomplish this work.  

The first phase of the Rail Park was considered a success, and won several awards, including a Preservation Alliance award for design and infrastructure use, according to Chan. 

“The next year will consist of completing a cost and feasibility study to determine a timeline and budget for the entire project,” Chan states. 

She hopes after this analysis is complete, the Rail Park will have a more concrete step-by-step plan of action, and the funding to back it up. 

Content by Alexandra Johnson at Communitarian@mail.dccc.edu

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